Action cams have reached the dizzy heights of 4K, but they’re as useful as a stick-mounted potato if they’re pointing in the wrong direction when something amazing happens.
That’s why GoPro has been busy working on a next-gen cam called the Fusion, which is due out by the end of 2017.
If you thought the Hero5 had an ultra-wide field of view, the Fusion promises 360-degree capture that misses absolutely nothing, wherever you point the thing.
Doesn’t this mean warped, fisheye videos that make the watcher feel like a chameleon? Not with the Fusion. It’s promising a new software feature called Overcapture that lets you pick out flat, 1080p frames from within its all-seeing view.
In theory, this makes it like a six-headed GoPro (hence ‘Fusion’), which can capture nicely edited, flat HD videos of your friend’s no-handers, as well as 360-degree souvenirs for your VR headset.
We fondled one at the Tour de France to find out if the theory is likely to match the reality...
Design: a super-sized Hero
In the shift from the standard 170-degree field of view to the all-encompassing 360 one, the GoPro Fusion has put on a few grams.
At about 8cm square and a few centimetres thick, it’s bigger than the GoPro Hero5. But you’ll still be able to attach it to whatever you like and, let’s be honest, no-one looks cool wearing a bike helmet with an action cam strapped to it, no matter what the size.
More important, the Fusion is far, far smaller than the GoPro Omni 360, which looks like a mad millionaire’s DIY project in comparison. It also has three microphone holes up top, which should mean directional audio for your 360-degree vids.
As part of the GoPro Fusion package you’ll get a quick and easy low-rise tripod and a cute little case to stop it getting scratched in your bag. The prototype version we saw already feels pretty sturdy, with a high-quality soft-touch plastic casing and rubbery sides to prevent calamity when you inevitably drop it on some gravel after getting a bit too excited following a BMX stunt.
It should be just as easy to use as other GoPros too. There’s a quick capture/shutter button on the front and a mode switcher on the side, and you can tell the battery life and current mode by looking at the postage stamp-size monochrome display on the front.
Like the Samsung Gear 360, there’s no image preview display, but this is tricky to make useful on a flat screen anyway. Plus, with the promise of Fusion’s new editing trickery, you’ll be going straight to the app anyway...
The app: Overcapture is the key
The Fusion’s coolest feature isn’t the 360-degree fisheye lens team on the front and back, or even that it shoots at 5.2K resolution rather than standard 4K. That badge goes to Overcapture.
This turns 360-degree footage, which friends will get bored of flicking around on their phones in about four seconds, into a masterfully edited 1080p ‘flat’ movie.
You can “punch out” parts of the Fusion’s view as Full HD clips, pan between parts and even zoom between an unreal, ‘miniature world’ view of the scene to a much more normal, camera-like field of view (see the video below). Like some of today’s drones, the Fusion will also apparently be able to auto-follow certain subjects in its view, which should save you some editing time.
The result? With a bit of effort, you’ll be able to turn a GoPro Fusion video into a mini Hollywood epic that you don’t need a VR headset to appreciate. By the sounds of it, you’ll be able to do all of this editing on your phone too, though we’ll have to wait till later this year to see the whole process.
Video quality: promising early signs
We didn’t get to record our own video with the Fusion, sadly, but the early sample videos certainly look promising.
The quality looks to be among the best we’ve seen among 360-degree cameras, with good sharpness and very few signs of stitching. The video above also shows how handy Overcapture’s panning will be for group videos, letting you mount the Fusion in one place and still capture all of the action.
The ability to ‘punch out’ frames within a 360-degree video isn’t new, but the Fusion’s ability to do it at 1080p trumps the 720p of most of its rivals. It certain has the hardware to match its rivals, but this will be a war won and lost on the software battleground.
GoPro Fusion early verdict
As long as there are no nasties hidden in the bits GoPro won’t tell us yet, like a £1500 price tag, the Fusion is one action camera worth getting seriously excited about.
There is still a lot we don’t know. GoPro won’t yet say how water resistant it’ll be, how long the battery lasts, or if there are other brand new modes to dig into.
But there’s a good chance that, in Overcapture, GoPro will have the software to help you look like an editing genius, whether you’re making videos for VR headsets or flatscreen TVs.
We’ll bring you a full review as soon as we get to stick one on our cycling helmet later this year.